The Bradenton Christian School girls basketball team took Saint Stephen’s (10-11) best shot on Friday night at the Petrik Thunder Dome on the campus of Out-of- Door Academy.
But the Panthers used 32 points and all-around play from sophomore Bailey Sikkema to overcome the Falcons 58-49, capturing the Class 3A-District 5 title and earn a home game in the regional quarterfinals.
“She (Sikkema) has always been there, but she finally took the game that was there for her to take tonight,” Bradenton Christian head coach Janelle Hochstetler said.
Saint Stephen’s (10-11) fended off the Panthers’ 7-2 run to start the game and led 17-16 at the end of the first quarter. The teams continued to trade leads in the second quarter. Claudia Sbaschnik’s right wing 3-pointer gave the Falcons (26-1) their largest lead, 28-24, just before halftime.
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Sikkema led all scorers at halftime with 12, but the Falcons still led 28-26. It turned out Sikkema was just warming up, and the Panthers emerged from the locker room with renewed vigor defensively.
“It was critical that our defense shut some things down because they have good penetration, so the girls gathered together and cleaned up that back side a bit better than the first half,” Hochstetler said.
Sikkema did some of everything during a 7-0 Panthers run in the third quarter. Trailing 30-28, she collected a put back to knot the score and then drove to the basket to deliver a bounce-pass assist to Savannah Woodland for a go-ahead layup. Woodland was fouled and missed the ensuing free throw, only to have the rebound gathered by Sikkema for a kickout pass that led to a 3-pointer from Sophie Giardina for a 35-30 lead.
“All those little critical moments of doing the little things, rebounding, are just critical in a tight game like this,” Hochstetler said.
The Falcons fought back and tied the game at 35 late in the third quarter on another Sbaschnik 3-pointer, but six straight points by Sikkema gave the Panthers the lead for good. Sbaschnik led the Falcons with 15 points before fouling out late.
Giardina provided 14 points for the Panthers.
Bradenton Christian will play host to Everglades city in the regional semifinals. Saint Stephen’s will travel to Naples First Baptist Academy. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 9.